I can’t tell you the last print book I bought.  Ever since I got a Kindle more than 3 years ago I’ve gone almost exclusively with ebooks.  Despite that fact, I visit any one of several local bookstores at least once a week.  I go there because I’m able to browse and discover products in a way that I simply can’t do online.

My iPhone is always with me when I’m in the bookstore.  Many times I’ve found a book that interests me, I pick it up and browse through it, then pull out my iPhone, open the Kindle app and grab the ebook sample (assuming one exists).  I’ve even bought Kindle ebooks on the spot in a bookstore with my iPhone.  I feel bad, sort of, but it makes me realize the enormous opportunity brick-and-mortar bookstores are missing out on.

I should also mention that I have several other bookstore apps on my iPhone including ones from Barnes & Noble and Borders.  I’ve never pulled either one of those out while I’m in those stores.  Never.  Why would I?  All my ebooks are in my Kindle library and none of these other e-tailers have given me a compelling reason to switch.

There’s something the physical bookstores could do to stop me from constantly defaulting to the Kindle app: Build functionality into their own mobile app that makes me want to go to their brick-and-mortar store. Here’s what I’m talking about:

  • Use location-based services built into pretty much every smartphone to know when I’m in one of your stores.
  • When I open your app and you’ve detected I’m in-store, offer me special deals which are only good for the next hour.  Make sure all the deals are fully redeemable using only my smartphone app.  Don’t email me coupons.  Push them into the app so I can just flash my iPhone at the checkout counter and be on my way without fumbling through my email inbox.
  • If you sell your own reader device, don’t make me bring it to your store for all this. My iPhone is always by my side but I refuse to bring a larger device just to get a deal.  All the promotions and redemptions need to happen with nothing more than my smartphone.  Plus, I probably don’t even own your device.  I’m happy reading my ebooks on an iPad today, I might switch to an Android tablet soon and I don’t want to be locked into your hardware platform tomorrow.
  • Most importantly, since I’ll soon be using your reader app, not Amazon’s, you’ll know my reading habits…so focus the deals on the things I tend to buy.
  • Offer specials on ebooks, print books as well as combinations.  And don’t forget about all the other things you sell in your store (remember the cafe!).  If I’m standing in your store and I just bought the ebook version of the latest Mickey Mantle bestseller, make me an offer on the Major League Baseball preseason guide you sell in the magazine section.
  • Take a page out of Groupon’s play book. Use your nifty new app to track how many customers with common interests are currently standing in your stores.  Push a message like this to all of them: “You’re a history buff but you’ve never bought this great ebook about FDR.  If at least 100 of you commit to buying it in the next 10 minutes we’ll give you all a special discount of x%.  Stop by the Biography section to browse the book and see why we think it’s perfect for you.”
  • Surprise me!  Use this app’s services to make me want to visit your brick-and-mortar store more frequently!

Everything described above should be free to anyone.  All they have to do is download your free smartphone app and create an account with you.  But don’t stop there.  Offer a more exclusive membership program for an annual fee where I’ll get even more deals than non-members receive. How about giving paying members access to lengthier ebook samples?  I’d love that!

Finally, ask all customers to opt in to an anonymous data collection program so that you can analyze the results of all these terrific campaigns and use that data to create even better ones tomorrow.  And don’t forget you could also sell that information to publishers.

If you do all this I promise I’ll start using your apps and I guarantee you’ll see more purchases from me.


  1. Joe, a lot of this makes sense to me. If, when I received my Nook Color for Christmas, I also received a scannable card to be used in a Barnes & Noble store, I could go to the store, the card would tell the store I was there, and deals could be pushed to my smartphone or displayed in the aisles as I passed. I could use my card to buy the ebook and have it delivered to my NC, whether it was with me or at home.

    Although a lot of people don’t initially like the idea of the store tracking their purchases and habits, the offer of a good enough discount on purchases has been enough to convince consumers to get store cards for their grocery stores, bookstores, franchise stores, fast food stores, big-box stores, etc, etc… so I see no reason a store member account shouldn’t work.

  2. Interesting ideas, but anything that offers a discount or combined offer with an ebook would have to have cooperation from the publisher, the retailer has no control over that.

    In any case, I don’t think it would work well for me since I no longer purchase physical books unless as a gift to someone without an eReader. I do visit bookstores occasionally to browse, but add anything interesting to my Amazon wishlist. I may pick up a couple of magazines but that’s it.

  3. @CS: Deals can be made. It’s not an impossibility that publishers could allow retailers discount leeway (though, in the current atmosphere, it might be difficult).

    And even if you didn’t buy physical books, it could still be a worthwhile reason to come into the store and get a discount on 2 ebooks, find out about another ebook you might like, get magazine discounts, etc. Pretty much the point of it is to convert browsing to an extra sale or two, and you sound like you’d be the kind of consumer they’d be aiming for.

  4. people still want to go to bookstores — for the atmosphere, for the camaraderie, to hang out and sip a latte and browse. but nowadays you feel like a stooge if you buy a book there that isn’t at least 40% off.

    it might be too late for the chains to change .. but someone is going to meld what we love about bookstores (the atmosphere, the cafe, the reading room ambiance) with what’s missing (something we can buy without feeling ripped off). maybe the indies will come back strong in the last quarter. i miss that dusty velvet couch and those two-dollar used paperbacks. i just want a four-dollar latte and a big parking lot to go with them.

  5. @becca: Agency Pricing is something that came, then went away, then came back. If it is seen to be detrimental to the industry, it will go away again. And as indies have enough control over their pricing to put a hurting on high agency prices, I expect this will be a short-lived aberration in the growth of ebooks.

  6. I don’t see it. All this can be done more comfortably on the Web at home with a big screen and a fast connection and your own personalised mocca soy latte in your own personalised mug. This kind of stuff is just rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

  7. Joe,

    If you’re not willing to support the store that is providing you with browsing material by making an occasional purchase, don’t cry when it dries up and blows away. You’ll miss it when its gone. Living in a virtual world just doesn’t quite cut it, does it?

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